Despite a rare exchange between Pope Francis and China in the sky on the pontiff’s way to Korea Thursday, Chinese authorities are not allowing its nationals to attend a Catholic gathering where the pope will be in attendance, Korean priests said Thursday.
Nearly 60 Chinese, about half of those who were expected to attend the 6th Asia Youth Day in the southern city of Daejeon, were blocked by Chinese authorities from leaving the country, they said.
A gathering of some 2,000 youths from Asia, the festival is the primary reason behind the pope’s visit to Korea.
“It is true that some of the Chinese attendees have failed to make it to the event,” said Rev. Hur Young-yup, the spokesperson for the Committee for the Papal Visit to Korea. He cited “complicated, internal reasons in China,” for their absence.
On his way here, the pontiff had a rare opportunity to address China, as his plane flew over Chinese airspace. The Vatican and China have no diplomatic relations.
The pope sent a telegram of greetings and prayers to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“I extend the best wishes to your excellence and your fellow citizens. I invoke the divine blessings of peace and well-being upon the nation.”
It is Vatican protocol that the pope sends a telegram to the heads of state whenever he flies through their airspace. Last time a pope wanted to fly over China, in 1989, Beijing refused.
“It furthers a low-key push for better relations with China and efforts to heal a rift between the Chinese authorities and those Catholics who worship outside the state-recognized church,” AP said of the pope’s address to China.
Relations between Beijing and Rome have been tense since 1951, when China severed ties with the Holy See after the officially atheistic Communist Party took power and set up its own church outside the pope’s authority. China persecuted the church for years until restoring a degree of religious freedom and freeing imprisoned priests in the late 1970s.
For the Vatican, the main stumbling block that remains is the insistence of the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association to name bishops without papal consent to administer over the country’s estimated 12 million Catholics.
By Lee Sun-young and news reports